Carolinas Animal Hospital

Pet First Aid: What You Should Know

Pet first aid is something that all pet owners should know because, let’s face it, accidents happen. It’s important to understand that even though aspects are similar to first aid in humans, there are sometimes significant differences in how to safely care for your pet. Learning what to be on the lookout for, what is or isn’t safe for pets in the event of injury or an allergic reaction, for example, as well as some possibly life-saving measures will make a big difference in how you can react in a variety of situations.

First aid for dogs and cats is a broad but critical topic, so we will be breaking it down into a series as follows:

  1. First Aid Supplies and Safe Handling
  2. Vitals and CPR for Dogs and Cats
  3. Heat Stroke and Seizures
  4. Wounds, Burns, and other Trauma
  5. Allergic Reactions and Poisoning

Pet First Aid Supplies

First thing’s first. Be prepared. Have a first aid kit for dogs and cats in your home. If you travel with your pets or enjoy outdoor activities with your dog regularly, then it’s a good idea to have a travel kit ready to go, too. You can use a plastic bin with a lid, a tackle box, or something similar to build your own kit. Most of these pet first aid supplies are available at your local pharmacy.

What you need:

Sterile gauze pads
Gauze rolls
Adhesive tape
Antiseptic wipes, powder, or spray
Blanket or towel
Cotton balls or swabs
Hydrogen peroxide
Non-latex disposable gloves
Thermometer (use rectally)
Lubricant for thermometer

Bandage scissors (with blunt ends)
Sterile saline solution
Styptic powder (to stop bleeding of over-clipped nails)
Corn syrup or glucose paste (for diabetic pets)
Muzzle (except for brachycephalic breeds like pugs, boxers)
OTC antibiotic ointment
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, for treatment of emergency allergic reaction)
Contact info for your vet and local emergency clinic!

Additional items to keep handy:

Ice packs
Pet carrier

Safe Handling

We all love to think of our beloved fur-kids as angelic and harmless all the time, but the reality can be different in scary or painful situations. Chances are that you will have to deal with at least knowing how best to restrain a moving target, and at worst, a dog or cat that could bite or claw out of fear or pain.

Handle your dog or cat gently and calmly. Handle injuries with care so as not to cause additional pain. Depending on the situation, as with a trauma, the outward injury may not be the only injury, so be careful even when handling parts of the body where you might not see visible injuries.

Charlotte NC Pet First Aid Handling Your Cat to Avoid Being Scratched

You can wrap a towel around your cat’s body allowing their head to stick out to help with handling them without being scratched, but never if you suspect broken limbs or spinal injury. Photo Source:

Refrain from hugging your pet to try to comfort them or putting your face near theirs. If they are very scared or have a painful injury and could bite, it is safest to use a muzzle on non-brachycephalic breeds as a precaution. A long strip of gauze can also be carefully tied around a dog’s mouth if a muzzle is not readily available. Do NOT use a muzzle on any animal that is vomiting. Avoid muzzling short-nose breeds because their airways are already restricted just by the nature of their conformation. It is possible to further restrict their breathing with a muzzle, so this should be avoided for their safety.

For cats scrambling to get away, claws can certainly make medical care more of a challenge. If the situation allows, you can wrap a towel around your cat’s body (head sticking out) to help with this, but never if you suspect broken limbs or spinal injury! Be careful not to do this too tightly. This would primarily be an option if the head area is the only area you need to access, such as for a wound on the ear, head, or face.

In the event of trauma or injury, restrict your pet’s movement to a small area so they can’t run around and risk further injury. Small pets do well in their pet carriers for transport.

Call Your Vet

When dealing with anything other than a very minor injury, call your regular veterinarian or local after hours emergency clinic to let them know what happened and that you are coming in. They can also help if you have questions about whether or not your pet needs to be seen by a doctor or how best to transport them.

Check back soon for the next article in our Pet First Aid series: Vitals and CPR for Dogs and Cats.


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